through MusicWeb for £7.00 postage
This double celebratory CD marks the 100th release in the acclaimed
Prima Voce series of early opera singers. I have reason to be grateful
to Nimbus for having invited me 10 years ago to the launch at Covent Garden
Opera House, since when I have collected these precious reminders of a bygone
age. The first releases included Great Singers 1909-1938
7801) and Divas 1906-1935
7802). Most of the CDs are individual artist-led.
The launch party was unforgettable, not least because I had struggled up
the stairs to the Crush Bar, much too soon during convalescence from an
operation! We had a demonstration of Nimbus's unique "natural ambisonic"
transfer method, which began by playing short passages of mint copies of
selected 78 rpm shellacs with fibre needles, repeatedly re-sharpening them
as necessary. (I remember well clipping the triangular sort every few minutes,
and sanding the round ones.) The sound is fed through a huge horn gramophone,
then painstakingly re-recorded with modern equipment, a combination of the
latest with the earliest in sound reproduction. Background noise is reduced
to a comfortable level, but without distorting the vocal qualities of the
singers, and the ear quickly adapts.
John Steane, who knows more than most, believes this method brings him face
to face with Caruso more consistently as he sounded. The voice is young and
fresh in these 1902 - 1910 recordings, with which "Caruso made the gramophone
and the gramophone made Caruso". For further reading on this crucial episode,
I recommend Peter Martland's lavishly illustrated
Records Began: EMI The first 100 years (Batsford) which covers
Fred Gaisberg's epoch making recordings of Caruso and is entertaining and
informative throughout. Its launch (1997) at the top of Canary Wharf was
equally memorable an occasion.
Singer and recording machine had met in a Milan hotel, when he was principal
tenor at La Scala in the world premiere of Franchetti's Germania under
Toscanini. Arias from that nearly forgotten opera, recorded on that day,
are perpetuated in this collection of 27 tracks, many of them from favourite
The additional (free) sampler has a roster of the greatest at their finest
on record, and I can imagine the heated debate which must have accompanied
their selection! Melba, Tetrazzini, Chaliapin, Tauber, Lehmann, de Luca,
Muzio and Schipa are all to be heard on these 19 generous tracks. Lots of
rare archive photos, biographical introductions, synopses of all the arias
and full details of the original recordings are included.
My only regret is the omission of actual texts and translations, which would
give an additional dimension to listening appreciation. So many of the arias
are repeated throughout the series that a book or CD Rom with full words
would be invaluable; a project for the next 100 Prima Voce CDs? If
copyright problems could be overcome, maybe this material might be put on
line for readers of Music on the Web?
Peter Grahame Woolf